Dying soy beans, brown grass covered in a dark oily substance and an overwhelming odor aren’t typical in rural Lyon county. Yet those that live in close proximity of Panhandle Eastern Pipeline outside of Olpe have been witness to all of these things following an incident at the pipeline on Thursday morning. While various agencies are aware of the incident there does not seem to be oversight by any specific agency to ensure that clean up is occurs.
At approximately 11:45 a.m. on Thursday employees of Panhandle Eastern Pipeline were attempting to clear a line close to the intersection of Road 90 and Road K when something went wrong. Instead of the usual plume of purple-tinted natural gas being released from the lines, a dark oily plume burst forth. The wind quickly dispersed the substance throughout the fields and yards along Road K.
“I was coming out of Olpe going west,” said Don Brown, land owner. “I saw that smoke and thought ‘what the hell is going on at the Panhandle’. It was all black coming out of there at 400-600 PSI. It was going everywhere.”
Land owners report that following the incident Road K was closed by Panhandle Eastern Pipeline due to the black oily matter covering the roadway. The hedgerow, crops, grass and houses were covered in a mist of the substance. Since then, leaves on the the trees have begun to wither and brown, soybeans have died and the smell continues to linger.
“This stuff is noxious,” said Gary Brown, land owner. “The grass is dead, the leaves are dying and we don’t know what was in this stuff. No one has told us.”
The black cloud traveled down Road K and reached the Emporia Municipal Golf Course located at 1133 Highway 99. Marcus Erkel, golf pro at the golf course, was working on Thursday and reported that some employees saw the cloud from the greens.
“I went outside and I could smell it,” said Erkel. “Something smelled funny. We obviously know that Panhandle is over there, and they have blown out lines before and you can hear it. Then we had a couple of customers come in talking about how it was so sticky and greasy in the parking lot and smelled so bad. Then some of the oil or whatever they used got on some carts so people were questioning what that was.”
At this time it does not appear that the grounds at the golf course were damaged. Panhandle Eastern Pipeline advised the golf course to turn on their sprinklers and water heavily. Erkel reports that at this time the greens look fine and appear to have no damage. He also reports that Panhandle Eastern staff have be very helpful and informative throughout the process.
“They (Panhandle Eastern) were wonderful,” said Erkel.” They were very informative to us and they let us know they were going to do whatever they could to make anything that happened right. They were fantastic, they let us know all that was going on and let us know what we needed to do and were very proactive.”
The Emporia Municipal Airport reports that a jet at the airport was coated in material following the incident. Buildings at the airport were also covered with a slick oily substance. The buildings have now been sprayed down to remove the substance.
Olpe Fire Department has sprayed some of the affected trees on the Brown’s land with water in an attempt to remove the material. Unfortunately, the leaves still feel oily to the touch and are withering. Jack Taylor, EFD Chief, is reviewing the incident report. Taylor did advise that the EFD received a call about the incident on Thursday. They spoke with Panhandle Eastern and were advised that cleanup was underway.
Sheriff Jeff Cope, advises that the incident is outside of the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office. Panhandle Eastern did not request traffic assistance or any other assistance of the sheriff’s office. According to one land owner, PE advised him to burn affected areas. It is unknown at this time what other steps will be taken to clean up the damaged land areas.
Ron Moran, area director for Panhandle Eastern, advises that clean up is underway.
“Clean up efforts are underway,” said Moran. “We have met with all the property owners. We have hired a third party environmental cleanup company. Cleanup will be on a case by case basis. Whether it is a pasture, soy beans crops, there was some houses and vehicles involved. A representative for our company has all of the contact information and we have all of the contact information for property owners that have been affected.”
A representative with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment acknowledged that KDHE received a call on Thursday about the incident. They have yet to come to the scene but plan to be in the area on Monday. KDHE is responsible for making sure that Panhandle Eastern has it cleaned up.